Friday, October 20, 2017

Friday Video: Frankenstein, according to Thug Notes

Friday, October 20, 2017
Loretta reports:

If you have not already discovered Thug Notes, and don’t have a problem with Language for Mature Audiences Only, you might want to check out the videos. Host Sparky Sweets, Ph.D., takes on the classics, summarizing and analyzing them, “original gangster” style, in about five minutes.

As part of my Halloween countdown, I offer his take on Frankenstein.

Video: Frankenstein - Thug Notes Summary and Analysis

Image: still from YouTube video

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be. To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

From the Archives: Finding Conjugal Bliss in Dr. Graham's Celestial Bed, 1781

Thursday, October 19, 2017
Susan reporting:

We TNHG are generally very good at remembering things that happened two hundred years ago, but during the last ten - not so much. Sometimes it takes a reader to jog our memories about old posts that are worthy of a return appearance. Many thanks to Alun Withey for reminding me of this post that first appeared back in 2011!

Exploiting the love-lives of the rich and famous is hardly a new pursuit. From ancient times, charlatans have offered exotic, expensive potions to increase flagging libidos and unusual regimes designed to restore the magic to chilly marriages. One of the most infamous of these is Dr. James Graham (1745-1794), a self-proclaimed physician, self-promoter, and inventor (Wikipedia luridly categorizes him as a "sexologist") who captured the imagination of English society in the 1780s – and a good deal of their money besides.

Like all good quacks, Dr. Graham had a splendid gimmick, and his was the Temple of Hymen in Shomberg House in Pall Mall, a kind of overwrought clinic for his unusual treatments. His most profitable speciality was improving conjugal sex and fertility, and he found a clamoring audience among the upper classes whose survival depended on producing healthy heirs. Many of his customers were weakened by venereal disease and general dissipation, but that didn't stop Dr. Graham from making the same outlandish guarantees that often appear today in spam folders. His celebrity clientele included politicians John Wilkes and Charles James Fox, aristocrats such as the Duchess of Devonshire and the Duke of Richmond, and courtesans like Elizabeth Armistead and Mary Robinson.

While his treatments varied from elixirs to mud baths, the centerpiece of the Temple of Hymen was the Celestial Bed. This over-sized bed (it measured nine by twelve feet) could be tilted for an optimum angle, and was supported by glass rods that could permit the bed and its occupants to become so charged with static electricity that it gave off a greenish glow. Decorative automata, a pair of live turtle doves, and lush bouquets of fresh flowers were also features of the bed. Adding to the ambiance was a mattress stuffed with a special mixture of sweet-smelling herbs and hair from the tails of the most rampant English stallions, while a special celestial pipe organ played music calculated to inspire love-making. For the next three years, until Dr. Graham's extravagance landed him in prison for debt and bankruptcy, there were plenty of couples eager for the experience.

The price of a magical night in the Celestial Bed? An astonishingly steep fifty pounds. Did it work? Perhaps – though who wanted to admit that it didn't?

In honor of Valentine's Day, 2011, the Museum of London is recreated Dr. Graham's Celestial Bed as a special adults-only exhibition. For more information about this, as well as more detailed descriptions of Dr. Graham's claims, see here – though be forewarned that this post, like the exhibition, is probably best not read at work.

Above: The Celestial Bed, with the Rosy Goddess of Health reposing thereon, unknown artist, English School, 1782, private collection.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

London's Kensal Green Cemetery

Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Loretta reports:

I’ve posted before about the garden cemetery movement, and the development of municipal cemeteries in response to overcrowded and squalid burial grounds. Thanks to my husband, I discovered in London The General Cemetery of All Souls, Kensal Green—more generally known as Kensal Green Cemetery. There, in the course of a tour, I discovered the burial places of many persons I’d learned about while researching my books. One of these was the famous Regency-era equestrian Andrew Ducrow, whose tomb I blogged about.

Today we’ll take a look at this beautiful cemetery itself.

Interestingly, like Worcester’s Rural Cemetery, it got started thanks to a lawyer, George Frederick Carden. Like so many others in the garden cemetery movement, he was inspired by Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.  Unlike many others, though, Kensal Green, London’s first commercial cemetery, is still run by the original company, the General Cemetery Company, under its original Act of Parliament. In the beginning, however, business looked a little shaky. Though it opened in 1833, it wasn't exactly overwhelmed with customers. Then in 1843 the Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex—one of King George III's many sons—decided to be buried there because Windsor’s burial facility apparently gave him the creeps. Thenceforth Kensal Green became THE place to be planted.

Detail of the second monument

Our fabulous tour guide
It's true. Though not nearly as well-known today as Highgate Cemetery, Kensal Green was, until shortly after the turn of the 20th century, the most fashionable cemetery in England. Everybody who was anybody wanted to be buried here.

Like Highgate, sadly, it could use some TLC. Monuments, like Ducrow’s, are crumbling. The Friends of Kensal Green have been working to research and restore the monuments. It was one of these Friends who led our walking tour, and his love of the place was clear. If you are in London, I strongly recommend you take one of their Sunday tours. Along with the amazing variety of monuments, the stories about the famous and less so, there’s abundant nature—the plantings, the birds and other wildlife—to create a very special refuge from the bustle of the metropolis.

For more of the story and the denizens of the place, please visit the Friends of Kensal Green website and the Kensal Green Cemetery website.

All photographs copyright © 2017 Walter M. Henritze III.
Please click on images to enlarge.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Visiting the c1765 Schuyler Mansion in Albany, NY

Sunday, October 15, 2017
Susan reporting,

This weekend I visited one of my favorite historic houses, the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, NY. Originally known as The Pastures when it was built in the 1760s, the large brick house was built by Philip Schuyler (1733-1804), who was one of George Washington's original four generals during the American Revolution, a state senator, and a successful business entrepreneur.

The Pastures was surrounded by nearly a hundred acres of orchards and formal gardens, and filled with costly furnishings imported from London. Guests (who included George and Martha Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, Benjamin Franklin, and Francois Alexandre, the Duc de La Rouchefoucauld-Liancourt) remarked both upon the house's grandeur and the Schuylers' warm hospitality.

Philip Schuyler's grand house remained in the family for only a single generation, however, and was sold by his children after his death. The house passed through numerous owners, and in the late 19thc it became the home of the St. Vincent's Orphan Asylum Society, serving as a dormitory for orphans. In 1911, the diocese sold the house to the State of New York for $40,000. A Board of Trustees (including three women) oversaw the house's preservation and restoration. Renamed the Schuyler Mansion, the house opened to the public on October 17, 1917, fittingly on the anniversary of the British defeat at the Battle of Saratoga.

Now operated under the auspices of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (NYS OPRHP), the Schuyler Mansion has celebrated its centennial as a historic site this year in grand style with projects that have included restoring the steps leading to the house's front door; recreating the "Ruins of Rome" scenic wallpaper in the halls (see my earlier blog post here, and another about the elaborate wool flock wallpaper found in several of the rooms); restoring Schuyler family silver and china for display; replacing the roof and repairing exterior woodwork; and restoring and reupholstering an elegant set of 1790s chairs and sofa that had belonged to the family.

The Schuyler Mansion was also the childhood home of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, the heroine of my new historical novel I, Eliza Hamilton. The house was also the site of Eliza's marriage to Alexander Hamilton and the birth of their first child, and she continued to return to it frequently through her parents' lifetimes.

This weekend the house welcomed Schuyler Family descendants (as well as this non-family-member.) With the shutters opened to the bright autumn sunshine, the rooms and furnishings were beautiful; the 18thc Schuylers would have been proud.

While the Schuyler Mansion's visitor season is winding down, the house is open for various tours and events and by appointment throughout the year. See the house's Facebook page for more information.

Many thanks to Jessie Serfilippi for the private tour, and thanks, too, to the Friends of Schuyler Mansion and the Schuyler Family reunion for welcoming me so warmly to their events this weekend.

All photos ©2017 by Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of October 9, 2017

Saturday, October 14, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
Neshobe Island, the Algonquin Round Table summer home in Vermont.
The Vikings were never a pure-bred "master race," but a blending of people and cultures.
The United Order of Tents, a secret society of black women founded to help women escape slavery, and still active today.
• Working out the Early Victorian way.
• The chic and imaginative world of shop window displays.
Catherine Hogarth Dickens, the forgotten wife of Charles Dickens.
Image: Beautifully beaded 1925 dropped-waist dress by Callot Soeurs.
• Nineteenth-century workers photographed with the tools of their trade.
Mary Steward's escape from Gloucester's city gaol, 1799.
• Early 20thc postcards from London's Petticoat Lane.
• The monsters of East L.A., and why the folklore and ghost stories we tell matter.
Cholera and its suggested remedies in the mid-19thc.
Donuts and apple cider: an autumn marriage made by autos and automation.
Image: Her poor husband, having to eat vegetables...advertisement, 1934.
• A drop of water that fell into Lake Superior in 1826 is just now leaving the lake.
• The myth of mummy wheat.
• "Lines of women slaving away, hopelessness on every face": Liverpool's Magdalene Laundry at Kelton House.
Americans in Paris, c1905: The Chinese Umbrella restaurant.
• Victorian bereavement bling.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday Video: Dressing an 18thc Lady, Continued: The Busk

Friday, October 13, 2017

Susan reporting,

Last month I shared a video from the Lady Lever Art Gallery and National Museums of Liverpool that demonstrated how an 18thc elite woman was dressed for her day.

Many of you were mystified by one particular wardrobe feature: the busk.

You weren't alone. According to Pauline Loven, the costume historian, costumer, and heritage film producer who created the costumes and contributed the historical background for the first video, the purpose of the busk perplexed many viewers - so much so that this second, shorter video was made to offer further explanation. Both videos were directed by Nick Loven for Crow's Eye Productions.

For examples of several antique busks, see this post from our archives.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Whittall Mills: Survivors of the Industrial Age

Thursday, October 12, 2017
No. 1 Brussels Street

Loretta reports:

Like most cities, my hometown has lost large chunks of its architectural heritage, for a variety of reasons.* Recently, I was surprised and heartened to discover that one large mill complex has managed to survive—not every single building, but most of them—thanks to local business people as well as our dedicated preservationists. Not long ago, under the auspices of Preservation Worcester, Breanna Barney gave a group of nerdy Worcester history people a talk and tour of the Whittall Mills in South Worcester.

Tower of No. 1 Brussels Street
Until I attended Ms. Barney’s talk, I didn’t realize that this area was a British enclave. Matthew J. Whittall, ** an Englishman from Kidderminster, had been working in the carpet industry since he was fourteen. At the invitation of George Crompton, who was building a factory to make Brussels carpets, Whittall came to the U.S. in the early 1870s. In 1879, during the global depression, when he found himself unemployed, he decided to go into business for himself. He returned to England, bought eight Crossley carpet looms, and brought them back to Worcester, along with a cousin and a group of Kidderminster carpet weavers.

He was not without strong competition, but by 1901 he’d won, becoming south Worcester’s largest employer. His well-regarded carpets were in Pullman train cars, the Manhattan Opera House, the new Worcester City Hall, and President McKinley’s White house. A sample advertisement is here.

Ms. Barney described him as a paternalistic employer—and this article (which I found after the talk), describing the development of this area, tells a similar story. According to Ms. Barney, in 1910, for instance, business was so good that “Whittall gave weavers an advance in wages.” Furthermore, they would work only 58 hours a week but get paid for 60 hours. This wasn't common behavior among U.S. industrialists, so far as I can ascertain.
No. 6 Brussels Street (front)
No. 6 Brussels Street (side view)
In the course of my own internet search, I learned that, along with his many contributions to South Worcester, Mr. Whittall made a large donation toward a new chapel in his home town of Kidderminster. I believe it’s safe to call him a philanthropist—all the more reason to be glad his buildings, with his name on them, survive.

Rottman’s Furniture & Carpet Store, across the way, contains under one roof several of the complex’s other buildings. In one place, a round tower juts up. It’s part of a Whittall competitor’s 1884 spinning mill (eventually absorbed by Whittall), and the original spiral staircase is still there, inside the furniture store, as Ms. Barney and her colleagues discovered for themselves.

Rottmans aren’t the only ones in the complex who appreciate these old brick structures and have used their imagination to give them new life. The buildings on Brussels Street house a coffee shop, a realty company, and several other businesses.
Rottman's Furniture & Carpet store
I am indebted to Ms. Barney for sharing with me her Powerpoint Presentation, (I only wish I had space to cover more of her beautifully researched talk), and to Preservation Worcester for its public education program of talks and walking tours about Worcester’s built environment and its people.

*More blogs on Worcester’s lost and surviving places here, here, here, here, and here.

**bio of Whittall and photos of his suburban mansion here.

Photos copyright © 2017 Walter M. Henritze III

Please click on images to enlarge

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Rings for Mourning General Alexander Hamilton, c1804

Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Susan reporting,

As I've written here before, the sudden death in 1804 of Gen. Alexander Hamilton from wounds suffered during his infamous duel with Col. Aaron Burr shocked a country, and left his family and friends reeling. Overwhelmed with grief, his new widow Elizabeth was too distraught to attend the funeral.  She struggled to face life without the man she'd loved and supported, and told others that she longed to die as well. Not only was she left with seven surviving children -  the youngest still a toddler - but she also inherited her husband's considerable debts.

And yet, despite all this, the rituals of death and mourning were observed by the grieving family. Mourning clothing was ordered and worn; Eliza continued to wear a version of the same high-waisted black mourning dress for the rest of her long life. Calls and letters of condolence were received and answered. Before the general was buried, Eliza would have cut and saved locks of his hair.

Hair was among the most precious and treasured of mementos in the 19thc, a lasting link to the deceased. As I shared here, strands of Hamilton's hair were still being given to admirers by his son decades after the general's death. For the family and closest friends, the hair became the centerpiece of mourning rings.

These are two surviving examples of mourning rings ordered by the family to honor Hamilton shortly after his death. The ring, above, was presented by Eliza to one of her husband's friends. Made of gold with a double shank band, the ring includes a braided swatch of Hamilton's hair, preserved under a crystal. Now in the collection of the New-York Historical Society, the ring has survived with its original dome-topped presentation box, covered in red leather and lined with blue and white velvet.

I haven't seen the ring, bottom, in person, but spotted it on an online auction house site. This ring, also gold, features the precious hairs loosely wound together beneath a bevelled crystal, and surrounded by bands of white and black enamel. According to the description, the ring was worn as a pendant, suspended on a ribbon through the gold link added to the ring. The ring was said to have descended directly through the Hamilton-Schuyler family, and is believed to have been worn either by Eliza herself, or one of her daughters.

One thing that I find interesting about both rings are the inscriptions inside. Both are engraved with Hamilton's name, the date of his death, and his age at his death: "46 yrs.", which would make his birth year 1758. Most modern scholars, however, believe that he was born in 1757, or even 1755. Why the discrepancy? The current theory is that Hamilton was self-conscious about entering college at an age older than most of his classmates, and may have shaved a few years from his age before he arrived in New York to begin his studies at King's College. In any event, it's intriguing to think that his wife either didn't know the truth herself, or chose to perpetuate the incorrect date long after it would have mattered.

For more about Eliza Hamilton's life after her husband's death, see this post.

Above: Mourning ring in box, maker unknown, 1805, New-York Historical Society; photo courtesy of N-YHS.
Below: Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton's Family Mourning Ring, maker unknown, c1804, Clifton & Anderson Art & Antiques; photo courtesy of Clifton & Anderson.

Read more about Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton in my latest historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere.

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Gilded Fan in the Gothic Style

Monday, October 9, 2017
 Loretta reports:

The Regency/Romantic era fashions in the V&A Museum included, along with the turban and fan I showed you a while ago, this rather more elaborate fan. As you can see (and probably see better if you enlarge the image at the V&A collections website, it’s quite elaborate, with three entire scenes painted with gouache, and the gilded, lacy sticks. The museum classifies this as Gothic Revival—and I’ve noticed that the Gothic seems to be revived rather frequently, in architecture and fashion, right up to our own time. The museum explains also that the fan sticks "were further embellished with crocketing - small projections along the points - inspired by the gables and spires of Gothic churches.”

Dated between 1820-1840, it does strike me as the sort of accessory I’d expect post-Regency, when fashions started becoming more ornate and showy. Certainly I have no trouble imagining one of my 1830s characters wielding such a fan, while one of my Regency ladies would be more likely to be fluttering something like the one in my earlier blog post, shown here at right. This one, too, can be enlarged and examined in more detail at the V&A website here.

Photographs courtesy me.
Please click on the images to enlarge.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of October 2, 2017

Saturday, October 7, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Vice wars: New York City's scandalous censorship past.
Paul Revere's midnight ride - by day, in a car.
• Aboard the Dashing Wave: a passenger's journal from a 1859 clipper ship.
• Women who went to war in 1861: the Civil War vivandieres.
• Which side would you choose? Family ties and the British occupation of Philadelphia during the American Revolution; part II here.
• "How many stamens has your flower?": The botanical education of Emily Dickinson.
Image: Late 3rd-early 2ndc BC gold earrings with pendants of flying Nike with torch.
• Why did the great Gilded Age mansions lose their luster?
Image: Fanny Brawne's fashion notebook.
• Forgotten wartime doughnut heroines.
• The first monument in New York's Central Park wasn't to a general or politician, but to a German poet.
• The myth of Robert E. Lee and the "good" slave-owner.
Image: "The cruel seas, remember, took him in November," 1592.
Marie Duval, the pioneering 19thc cartoonist that history forgot.
Paisley shawls from a visit to the Paisley Museum (original article is in Spanish; even if you don't read Spanish or have a translation feature, the photos are stunning.)
Poconos & Catskills resorts (think Dirty Dancing) idyllic in 1960s postcards compared to abandoned disrepair today.
Nellie Bly, intrepid journalist.
Image: The New York City house where Louisa May Alcott lived while writing Little Women.
James MacLaine, the gentleman highwayman.
Thomas Carr of Lincoln, dealer of almanacks
• Inside an iconic 1977 Playboy Bunny uniform.
Video: Truly amazing video: how fourteen wolves changed the ecosystem of Yellowstone National Park.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Save the Date: Booksigning & Talk for I, ELIZA HAMILTON on October 14

Susan reporting,

Next Saturday, October 14, I'll be speaking and signing books at 1:00 pm in the McChesney Room of the Schenectady County Public Library, 99 Clinton Street, Schenectady, NY.  For more information, please call the library: 518-388-4500.

If you'd like to order a book for me to sign AND receive a 20% discount, please call the Open Door Bookstore (they'll be handling the book sales for the signing) by October 10: 518-346-2719.

This is a special signing for me because it's in the Schenectady-Albany area. My heroine, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, was born in Albany, and her family's house - then known as The Pastures and now The Schuyler Mansion - still stands.

Hope to see you there - and especially if you're a blog-follower, please be sure to introduce yourself!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Friday Video: Sparkly Little Pink Coat by Balenciaga

Friday, October 6, 2017
Loretta reports:

On a blog post a while back, I offered some images from the Balenciaga, Shaping Fashion exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Today’s video will give you an idea of the level of artistry and amount of work that went into one element of making a single garment displayed in the exhibition. After you view it, I strongly recommend you take a look at the closeups of the pink, feathery coat on the V&A website.

You might also want to take a look at some of the other V&A videos dealing with the exhibition. They’re short, and, among other things, provide some glimpses of the Conservation Department and its work, which I had the rare privilege of visiting, thanks to a thoughtful friend from London.*

The image above left is a still from the video, since nowhere, in the thousands of photos my husband and I took during this year’s travels, could I find one of this particular item. But then, none of our photos, shot through glass, would have been nearly as crisply close up as those on the V&A website.

*I mean you, Betsy!

V&A video: Lesage and Balenciaga, via YouTube

Clicking on the image will enlarge it, but it will be fuzzy.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

From the Archives: Alexander Hamilton Seeks a Wife, 1779

Thursday, October 5, 2017
Susan reporting:

One of the questions that authors are asked most frequently is "Where do you get your ideas?" Most of the time, there's no specific answer. I really don't know, especially since years can pass between that first flickering idea to a full-fledged book. 

While searching for something else (as if often the case),  I found this blog post from February 2011. I'd forgotten entirely about it (which often happens, too), but clearly I was already thinking about Elizabeth Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton more than six years ago, and likely longer. I certainly didn't know then that a blog post would eventually grow into my new historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, but here you are: the birth of a book-idea. Maybe.

No matter the time period, finding the perfect spouse seems to have been a constant challenge for men and women alike. Matchmaking today may have become one more internet transaction, but in the past, most people turned to friends and family to help them find a suitable mate. And in the past, just as today, the laundry-list of requirements in a potential spouse that the hopeful bride or groom sought must have sorely tried the patience of a good many friends.

Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), left, was one of early America's Founding Fathers, and is most remembered today as the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. But in April, 1779, he was an ambitious young lieutenant colonel serving in the Continental Army as an aide to General George Washington, and one of the ways he hoped to rise in the world was to make a favorable marriage. In a letter to his good friend and fellow officer John Laurens, he enlisted Laurens' assistance in finding just the right lady:

"Such a wife as I want will, I know, be difficult to be found, but if you succeed, it will be the stronger proof of your zeal and dexterity. Take her description – She must be young, handsome (I lay most stress upon a good shape) sensible (a little learning will do), well bred (but she must have an aversion to the word ton) chaste and tender (I am an enthusiast in my notions of fidelity and fondness) of some good nature, a great deal of generosity (she must neither love money nor scolding, for I dislike equally a termagant and an economist). In politics, I am indifferent what side she may be of; I think I have arguments that will easily convert her to mine. As to religion a moderate stock will satisfy me. She must believe in God and hate a saint. But as to fortune, the larger stock of that the better. You know my temper and circumstances and will therefore pay special attention to this article in the treaty. Though I run no risk of going to Purgatory for my avarice; yet as  money is an essential ingredient to happiness in this world – as I have not much of my own and as I am very little calculated to get more either by my address or industry; it must needs be, that my wife, if I get one, bring at least a sufficiency to administer to her own extravagancies."

Amazingly, Hamilton soon did find himself a wife who met nearly all of these stipulations. Elizabeth Schuyler (1757-1854), right, was the daughter of General Philip Schuyler, and a member of one of the wealthiest and most influential families in New York. Hamilton wed her in December, 1780, in her family's mansion. The marriage produced eight children and survived Hamilton's various scandals and a very public infidelity, and for the duration of Elizabeth's long life (she outlived her husband – killed in the famous duel with Aaron Burr – by fifty years), she defended Hamilton and refused to believe the gossip about him, no matter how true it might have been.

So perhaps despite the seemingly mercenary beginning, Alexander Hamilton really did get lucky and wed the girl of his dreams....

Read more about Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton in my latest historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Fashions for October 1871

Tuesday, October 3, 2017
October 1871 fashions
Loretta reports:

The October 1871 issue of The World of Fashion calls our attention to something we might rarely think about: the influence of political events on fashion. Fashion in some cases, apparently, took itself to a calmer environment, and proceeded as usual.

“It is now more than twelve months, since the siege of Paris occasioned the total collapse of Fashion in the French capital, and for nearly nine months afterwards no new Fashions could be produced in that city. Attempts were indeed made, to carry on some of the French Journals of Fashion in other continental capitals, but owing to the force of circumstances nothing really new was produced there, and their Costumes were merely repetitions, or rather exaggerations of the fashions of the Empire, including the enormous bouffants and all kinds of extravagance and bad taste.

“The proprietors of this Magazine, however, had foreseen the probable course of events, and when the fortune of War declared against “
La Belle France,” they advised their staff of artists and Artistes des Modes, to seek refuge in London. They did so, and carried on, uninterruptedly, their production of elegant creations, combining with them something of the English taste acquired during their stay.

“At the same time, England being freed from all chance of entanglement in the disastrous conflict then raging on the Continent, became the natural place of refuge for the elite of Parisian Society, and thus Fashion made her usual progress, without the least retardation; in fact it then combined the brilliancy of French ideas, with the well known simplicity and elegance of the English taste.”

October 1871 fashions description
If you compare with last month’s fashions, you’ll note the way the shape of the skirt is changing, beginning to flatten in the front, and gathering up in the back as we progress toward that late-Victorian emphasis on the booty.

Fashion plate and quotations from The World of Fashion and Continental Feuilletons [afterw.] The Ladies' Monthly Magazine, The World of Fashion [afterw.] Le Monde Élégant; or The World of Fashion Vol 48 Jan – Dec 1871 via Google Books.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Wedding Ring that Alexander Hamilton Gave to Elizabeth Schuyler, 1780

Sunday, October 1, 2017
Susan reporting,

As I've noted in previous blog posts (here and here), sometimes the most inspiring historical research isn't found in books, diaries, or letters, but in the physical objects that can offer an immediate connection to the past. I've saved the best of these from my research for my just-released historical novel I, Eliza Hamilton until now - and here it is.

Kept in an acid-free box in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University in New York City, and tiny in size, it's only brought out by special request, or for the even-more-rare times that it appears on display as part of an exhibition.

It's Eliza Schuyler Hamilton's wedding ring. THE wedding ring, the one that Alexander Hamilton slipped on her finger when they were married in December, 1780.

Made of gold grown burnished with time in the way that only wedding rings can be, Eliza's ring is impossibly delicate, worn thin and no longer exactly round after nearly seventy-four years on her finger. It's small, too, for Eliza was a petite woman. I wasn't permitted to try it on (nor would I have wished to: that's Eliza's ring), but when I placed my own size-5 ring beside it, mine looked large and thick by comparison.

The style is ingenious. It's called a gimmel ring (or gimmal, or puzzle ring), with two separate, twisted circles that are linked and fit together side by side to form a single band. Gimmel rings had already been popular for betrothals and weddings long before Alexander bought one for Eliza, with the earliest known examples dating from the 14th century. I made this very brief video showing the curator linking the rings together. If you look closely, you can see the little notch and peg that clicked the rings together.

The symbolism of two forming one is perfect for a marriage, and this ring was made even more special by having the names of the groom and bride - Alexander & Elizabeth (he got the ampersand) - engraved inside each ring, where they were always pressed against one another. Without the added enhancement of precious stones, this was a comparatively inexpensive ring, which was likely a consideration for the impoverished young lieutenant colonel in the middle of the American Revolution.

But I also imagine that the simplicity of the ring must have appealed to Eliza as well. There on her finger, the gold band must have been a constant comfort to her, a reminder of love and happiness through the tragedies and sorrows of her life, and through the half-century - more than fifty years! - of her widowhood.

Given that, I'm surprised that the ring was not buried with her. Yet I'm glad it wasn't. Seeing this little double-circle of gold, touching it lightly with my fingertip, was like having Eliza herself there beside me in the library. Research doesn't get any better - or more magical - than that.

Many thanks to Jennifer B. Lee, Curator, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University, for showing me the ring along with other Hamilton memorabilia.

Above: Gold double-band wedding ring of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, wife of Alexander Hamilton, maker unknown, 1780. Columbia University; gift of Furman University Library, through the suggestion and assistance of the Hamilton family descendants: Mrs. Marie Hamilton Barrett and Mrs. Elizabeth Schuyler Campbell.

Read more about Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton in my latest historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of September 25, 2017

Saturday, September 30, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Patient hero: John Henry and the earliest American account of post-traumatic stress.
Margaret Hamilton, the woman who put a man on the moon.
• The wedding feast of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, and Isabel of Portugal, 1429.
James Leman and the ravishing silk designs he created in 18thc Spitalfields.
• One of history's most reproduced "wallflowers": 19thc beauty, muse, and opera singer Lina Cavilieri.
Image: A large, rare, and exquisite 17thc lady's needle lace toilette.
• The storied 18thc romance of Lady Frankland, born a fisherman's daughter, may not be the idealized fairy-tale it once seemed.
• Sugar versus honey in Byzantine recipes.
• Memento of a spy: the leather pocketbook British spy Major John Andre was carrying when he was captured by American soldiers, September 1780.
• Coin-op cuisine: when the future tasted like a five-cents slice of pie.
• Diverse entertainment at the 19thc Eagle Tavern in London.
• It's been fifty years since Britain left. Why do so many African judges still wear white Georgian-style wigs?
Image: Records show Queen Alexandra ordered matching shoes and stockings like these c1890.
Queen Victoria's Hindustani diaries.
• Respectfully presented: an elegant "presentation sampler" worked by a 12-year-old Philadelphian in 1822.
• Thomas Rowlandsond's Lower Orders.
• In the 1930s, New Zealand had an epidemic of exploding pants.
• A calvary helmet designed by Lord Byron.
• The world's smallest crime scenes from the 1940s: the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.
• When the King of France lived in England.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Naked Ladies of York House, Twickenham

Thursday, September 28, 2017
Loretta reports:

I’m happy to say that our trip to London held many, many excellent surprises, not least among them the Naked Ladies at York House in Twickenham. The first surprise was learning that York House wasn’t the home of any Dukes of York. It was the home of the Yorke family, and built for one of King Charles I’s courtiers. Since then, it’s had more than its share of owners—including Anne Seymour Damer, a sculptor who was Horace Walpole’s great friend. (No, I didn’t get to Strawberry Hill this time. Next time, I hope.)

But among the artists, aristocrats, and would-be monarchs who called York House home, the one who caught my attention was Sir Ratan Tata—because he’s the one who’s responsible for installing these statues in the garden. They’ve led an exciting life, certainly. They belonged originally to Whitaker Wright, who killed himself with cyanide after a conviction for fraud. Sir Ratan, who ran a then-legal opium importing business, socialized with King George V.  During WWII, the ladies had to be camouflaged under some sort of dark substance, to avoid attracting the attention of German bombers.

I will admit that some of the poses puzzled us—and we’re not the only ones. Those responsible for installing the statues were puzzled, too, because they had to figure out how to arrange the figures without guidance from either the artist or written instructions. Furthermore, these Naked Ladies were meant to be part of a larger ensemble, but the other statues went elsewhere—possibly with the instructions. Still, while the arrangement may not be what the artist originally intended, it certainly does stop a visitor in her tracks.

You can learn more about the statues and their history at the York House Society website, in this PDF (this material appears on a sign near the statues as well, which proved impossible to photograph), at the Twickenham Museum site, and of course at Wikipedia, where you can learn more about York House as well as the Naked Ladies.

All images: Photo copyright © 2017 Walter M. Henritze III

Please click on images to enlarge.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

It's Publication Day for I, ELIZA HAMILTON!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Susan reporting,

At last, at last: my new historical novel, I, ELIZA HAMILTON is now available via on-line websites and in bricks-and-mortar stores, and in every format including print, ebook, and audiobook.

       Barnes & Noble
       Book Depository (If you live outside the US, Book Depository ships worldwide for free.)
       Google Play

If you need to be tempted further,  you can read a description as well as the prologue and first chapter here. You'll find plenty of additional background about Eliza and Alexander Hamilton and the tumultuous times in which they lived here on my website blog. There's also a Behind-the-Book feature at BookPage.
So far the initial reviews have been wonderful, including a starred review in Publishers Weekly and more than 65 five-star early-reader reviews on Goodreads.

But the only opinion that matters now belongs to you, dear readers.

Eliza is ready to share her story, and oh, she has such things to tell....

Monday, September 25, 2017

Temple Bar Returns

Monday, September 25, 2017
Loretta reports:

In Dukes Prefer Blondes, I mention Temple Bar, a gateway that stood where Fleet Street meets the Strand. Through it have passed, along with the usual traffic, monarchs dead and alive. On the main arch, on iron spikes, traitors’ heads were on display.

The structure still exists, as I set out to prove to my satisfaction during my stay in London, and this existence, to me, is a miracle. It is London’s only surviving gateway, and the story of its survival includes a trip to Hertfordshire.

Built in 1672, the time of King Charles II, it was taken down, stone by stone, in 1878, because it was in the way. It had for years obstructed traffic, and now it was hampering construction of the Royal Courts of Justice. Unlike other historical structures, though, Temple Bar was saved from complete destruction. The stones weren’t carried off and used to build something else. They were saved, in hopes of a restoration. Nobody quite worked out how to do this, though.
Then, ten years later, at his wife’s instigation, Sir Henry Meux bought the 400 tons of stone from the Corporation of London and rebuilt Temple Bar as a gateway into his estate at Theobalds Park in Hertfordshire. Apparently, it did the trick of enhancing Lady Meux’s social status, as she’d hoped: It’s believed that she dined in its upper chamber with, among other notables, the Prince of Wales and Winston Churchill.

Temple Bar remained at Theobolds Park until 2004, when it returned to London, to be reassembled, stone by stone, in Paternoster Square.

The History of Temple Bar site and the Wikipedia entry will offer you more details. I offer some pictures.

All images: Photo copyright © 2017 Walter M. Henritze III
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of September 17, 2017

Saturday, September 23, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Newly digitized to view on line: spectacular example of colonial calligraphy by a Boston writing teacher.
• Night witches, Nazi hunters, heroes: the women of Aviation Group 122.
• For a stylish Victorian lady, one's gloves must always be a shade lighter than one's dress.
• The confession of Mary Voce, who inspired George Eliot.
• Born to a one-time slave, Ruth Odom Bonner's life reflected America's "arc of progress."
Image: Rachel M. Thompson & Catherine Jay Moore, early tech pioneers, from Radio Age, January 1924.
• Scientists once dressed frogs in tiny pants to study theories of reproduction.
• There never was a real 17thc Tulip Fever.
• Not seen, not heard: the Ladies' Gallery in the old Palace of Westminster.
• Theatrical cosmetics in the 19thc: making face, making "race."
• The Trotula: Women's Health Care in the Middle Ages.
• Explore Mary Wollstonecroft's legacy.
Image: New acquisition by the Victoria & Albert Museum - Queen Victoria's sapphire and diamond crown, designed by Prince Albert.
• President Benjamin Harrison and the body-snatchers.
• The most inspiring hot-air balloon ride ever.
• A ditch runs through it: Robert Livingston and the first Erie Canal.
Children of convicts transported to Australia grew to be taller than their peers in the UK.
• The fashion for white mourning.
• In the summer of 1792, a ferocious (and mysterious) beast terrorized the countryside around Milan.
• To read online - anonymous visual journal depicting an entire trip through West Indies in 1815.
Image: Geta shoes made of solid iron and worn for martial arts training.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday Video: The Gold Singing Bird Egg Basket

Friday, September 22, 2017
Loretta reports:

We Two Nerdy History Girls are partial to automata and other clockwork devices. Among numerous other marvels, I’ve shown you the singing bird pistols that inspired a scene for one of my novellas, and surviving clockwork items originally exhibited in London in 1807.

Susan has brought you—to name only two of many—a rope dancer and an automaton watch.

Searching the tags “scientific marvels” and “automaton” will bring up more posts on these ingenious devices.

Today, I offer you an egg.

Video: Gold Singing Bird Egg Basket from M.S. Rau Antiques

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Pair of Hand-stitched Handkerchiefs from the Wedding of Eliza Schuyler & Alexander Hamilton, 1780

Thursday, September 21, 2017
Susan reporting,

Most historical research for a novel involves words, and more words: letters, journals, diaries, and other books. But sometimes research means things: objects that were significant to my characters, and somehow survived: a tangible, magical link to the past.

Despite the popular history myths, 18thc women didn't sew the their all the clothing that their families wore. Nor did they shear the sheep and harvest the flax, process all the fibers, spin the thread, and weave the cloth; even if you lived on the edge of the wilderness, there were skilled tradespeople who took care of all that, and merchants ready to supply their wares at every price point. But while creating jackets, breeches, and gowns was left to tailors and mantua-makers, women did make the less challenging items like baby clothes, neckcloths, handkerchiefs, shirts, and shifts at home.

Sewing by hand was a useful skill, and considered a virtuously industrious one as well for women of every rank. But for many women, sewing was also a form of personal satisfaction and self-expression. The past (and the present!) is filled with women for whom sewing a neat, straight seam of perfectly even stitches or completing an intricate embroidery pattern is a matter of pride, accomplishment, and zen-like peace. Stitching for a special person could create a personal, even intimate, gift as well. Hand-made items can come with love and good wishes in every stitch.

Eliza Schuyler Hamilton (the heroine of my new historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton) enjoyed sewing, embroidery, and knitting. I've already shared one surviving example of her needlework, this lavish embroidered mat to display the miniature of her then-fiancee, Alexander Hamilton, made during the summer and fall when they were engaged but apart. Here are a pair of handkerchiefs that, by family tradition, were also made by Eliza, and carried by her and Alexander at their wedding in December, 1780.

The larger handkerchief would have been Eliza's. Made of fine imported linen, it shows skilled cutwork over net inserts as well as precise stitching of the highest level, suitable for a special event like a wedding. (Given its size, I'm wondering if this might have been a neckerchief for wearing around the shoulders - a popular style in the 1780s - rather than a handkerchief, but since the archival description calls it a handkerchief, then so shall I.) Surviving, too, is the gentleman's handkerchief with an embroidered geometric pattern with floral accents. Again, the legend is that Eliza made the handkerchief for Alexander, a romantic gift that he must have treasured.

Today the linen on the two handkerchiefs is yellowed and so fragile that they cannot be unfolded, but the beauty and the undeniable care (and likely love) that went into each one of those long-ago stitches remains. The fact that both pieces were set aside and treasured for more than two hundred years shows how special they must have been - and even now, in their special, acid-proof archival box, they're still stored together.

Many thanks to Jennifer Lee, curator, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University, for showing the neckerchief and the handkerchief to me.

Above: Pair of wedding handkerchiefs, c1780, Alexander Hamilton Collection, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University. Photographs ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott.

Read more about Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton in my latest historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere.
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